Codeine is a medicine that is used to relieve pain and to reduce coughing.
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Visit healthdirect’s list of medicines that contain codeine to find out more about a specific medicine.
To get codeine, you need a doctor's prescription.
You can buy codeine-containing medications from a pharmacy.
Here you will find more information on what codeine is, what it's used for, how it works, its risks and alternative treatment options.
What is codeine used for?
Codeine can be used to relieve mild to moderate pain. It is also used to treat dry coughs.
Your doctor might prescribe codeine for another reason. If you are unsure about why you are taking codeine, ask your doctor.
How does codeine work?
Codeine works by changing the way the brain senses and responds to pain. It also suppresses the activity in the brain that controls coughing.
What forms of codeine are available?
Codeine is available on its own, or in combination with other medicines like paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin. It is available in different:
- forms, including tablets, capsules and liquids
- pack sizes
Risks of taking codeine
Each person responds to medicines differently. Just because a side effect is listed, it doesn't mean you will experience it. Even if you experience a side effect, you and your doctor will need to weigh up the medicine's benefits against its risks before deciding what to do.
Common side effects of codeine include:
- nausea and stomach cramps
- mood changes
- feeling faint
- inability to sleep and unusual dreams
Serious side effects of codeine that need immediate medical attention include:
- itchy, raised or red skin rash
- swelling of face
- muscle stiffness
- breathing difficulties
- irregular heartbeat
- blurred or double vision
- difficulty in urinating (peeing)
Taking codeine over long periods can be addictive.
This is not a full list of side effects for codeine. For more information, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. If you experience a serious or life-threatening side effect, you should immediately call triple zero (000).
Alternatives to codeine
Many other painkillers and cough-suppressing medicines can be used instead of codeine. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor about choosing the most suitable medicine for you or your child, based on your symptoms and overall health.
If you have chronic (long-term) pain your doctor might suggest lifestyle changes to help manage the discomfort. This may include physical fitness and activity pacing, social activities, relaxation techniques and overall health management.
This page does not give you all the information about codeine. Please read the Consumer Medicines Information (CMI) for the brand of codeine you are taking, and if you have important questions, ask your pharmacist or doctor.
Last reviewed: December 2018